"Character support meeting commencing," chimed a cheerful, feminine voice over the intercom. "Please take your seats. The Chairman has the floor."
A tall, green-armored man, supposedly the Chairman, took up post behind the podium situated before the motley assortment of men and women. He removed his gold-glassed helmet and attempted a reassuring smile at the masses. But for a man who's face was etched with fleshy scars, and who had a discouraging habit of staring into your soul with his deep-set eyes, John had little hope in achieving his goal. Luckily, he did not seem to realize his failure. Instead he calmly waited for the masses to cease talking and when they did, he leaned forward fractionally to speak into the bulbous microphone.
"Before we begin, a few public announcements," he said laconically. Then he promptly left the stage, reinstating his character feature: the remarkable ability to speak as little as possible. His departure was met with a few Thank-God-he's-gone claps. Unfortunately, the former Master Chief of the UNSC military had the boring habit of going on and on about his supposed exile into the ass-end of space. Somehow the Spartan was capable of discarding his well-tailored public image in favor of making sure everyone in the group knew of his displeasure and sense of betrayal. Despite his annoying rants (and everyone's obvious discomfort), he could definitely say that everyone this side of life knew his words on the matter.
His position was replaced with that of a young woman wearing a polite black cocktail dress, her short dark hair neatly combed and shining nicely. As soon as she smiled, the support group masses stopped their individual chatting, since she was immediately recognized as Cortana, and had for herself earned a sort of queen-like status for being an Olde Halo Veteran.
(When she had organized the stitching and unstitching, a process required for removing a character from one environment and placing them into another, she had changed her appearance to be more suitable. For some reason appearing before the masses as a naked, blue woman with codes scrolling up and down her body seemed a bit daft. However none of the others had their physical appearance altered in any other significant way, except for the Master Chief, who felt having a face to talk to was a good idea.)
"I would like to address several issues put to the Chairman," began Cortana. "We ask that your suggestions are anonymous, but it appears some of you don't really care about your identity."
There was a collective shifting of heads as a few dozen people rapidly looked at the 3 Stooges, otherwise known as the three characters of the Halo games voiced by the same Canadian actor; there was Sergeant Reynolds (Halo 3), 'Gunny' Edward Buck (Halo: ODST), and Gunnery Sergeant Buck (Halo Reach). They were well known for their arguments for who was the better looking, as well as their open disregard for identity, quite similar to the mindset of triplet brothers. Obviously the Gunnery Sergeant had the best of luck, seeing as he did not truly have a physical representation in Halo Reach, and was able to copy the Gunny's image and alter it slightly. This did not necessarily mean he was better-looking than the Gunny, since the GS actually based his rate of handsomosity on his own personal choices – i.e., his nose was a bit too flared and his eyes were a little too shiny. But he sure could strut as though he was as attractive as he felt.
"First up: a recent complaint we've had about the overwhelming amount of Kat pairings lately. The writer says here:
'Being the only woman on the team makes Noble-2 the automatic first candidate for any written pairing. I would also like to disarm the rumor about a Kat fan club. There was no meeting last week on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and there will not be another one this Thursday either. KatxEveryone is not an option anymore, until Kat announces her preference.'
This recital brought a few noises of questionable intents, which in reality were the men of Noble Team making a clamor so their neighbors couldn't hear their phones vibrating. Jorge, Emile, and Jun nervously squirmed in their foldout seats. Carter, meanwhile, was receiving the Killing Eye from Kat, who had come to realize she had not written that particular complaint. She slowly crossed her arms.
Carter tried to remain inconspicuous as he finished posting on his Wall about the new meeting that Thursday at 6:30. He was, however, slowly dying on the inside as Kat continued to glare.
Cortana observed this from a safe distance and stifled a laugh. "Speaking of fan clubs, we have a few new ones in honor of some new pairings on the market. Number one on the list, based on popularity, is…" here her voice faltered, "MCxC Fan Club. Mm. 921 members…"
Someone in the masses whistled appreciatively.
Cortana sent a hasty glance at the Master Chief, who had taken a drink with him to the upper level of chairs, and was suddenly finding his red plastic cup very, very interesting.
"Second is EmilexKukri, at 32 members. Third comes the Buck Fan Club at three members. Although I cannot guarantee the validity of some of these clubs, I suggest we check them out! Could be promising!"
In the back of the room, John choked on his soda, and it splashed all over his armor.
"We will be admitting new members this coming Sunday. A group of characters from the popular web machinima, Red vs Blue.
"Now I want you kids to play nice. You all know what it's like to be new."
This was met with a few shuffles and grumbles. No one truly believed it would be hard for anyone on either team to adjust.
Cortana made a face at the small remarks, but nonetheless continued. She made a few more public announcements, reminding them the Character Support Meeting would come together every Friday night in Sector 2-b (also known as the auditorium in New Alexandria. There had been some minor mishaps with the code compatibility, especially with those of the earlier games, but those were easily overwritten). When she had finished, she allowed the group to submit to the small talk that had been obviously bothering them for the past thirty minutes.
The Auditorium erupted with chatter as soon as Cortana left the podium. The building itself closely resembled the stadium-like ones in universities, with ten rows of folding chairs and two aisles that led to firmly closed doors, and because of its architecture the noise made by a few dozen voices echoed like football game cheers. Several people rose from their seats and went ground level, where three white fold out tables had been decorated liberally with snacks. In technicality, none of the 'avatars' could actually eat the food, but part of the programming put into the auditorium allowed for certain actions so it appeared they were eating. Right now dozens of characters rushed from their chairs with the enthusiasm associated with the lust for food.
However, in the back of the room, two characters remained, tucked neatly into two chairs furthest from the aisle and the door. Sitting in the corner seat, the Rookie was staring intently at the Huragok drifted next to him. Vergil's cilia-covered tentacles were raised in gestures of comforting patience. It was apparent a teaching lesson was in session.
(Explain, pairing, please?) begged the Huragok, his cilia fidgeting and signing their unique language. The Rookie watched as Vergil repeated the action again so as to improve comprehension. Smiling with success, the Rookie raised his naked hands and quickly signed back, flexing his scarred fingers with the dexterity of a Huragok.
(Meaning, two people, together.)
Vergil's 'head' twisted sideways in an indication of confusion, blinking all six sensory nodes. Huragok pairing was much different, as far as the Rookie knew. But he didn't have the ability to explain what the difference between human reproduction and Huragok. Somehow, even if he did know, he doubted he'd actually explain it.
"CHUG CHUG CHUG CHUG-!"
Behind the pounding in her head Jove could hear the cheering of her allies. Jorge was slapping her on the back as she reached for another shot glass and downed as quickly as if she was drinking hellfire. Across the table, a man of his early forties reached for his own damnation and drank it somewhat slower. He wiped imaginary scotch from his grizzled jawline, grinning wolfishly at the Spartan.
"Think you can make one more round?" he shouted over the din, and the crowd that had gathered quieted as Jove pounded the table, everything on it jumping a few inches into the air. Jove reached for another glass, drank it down, and threw it on the ground, where it shattered, spraying shards of glass and drops of scotch every which-a-way.
"Bring it, bitch!"
Glasses filled to the brim with various types of alcohol were drained like they were the Waters of Eternal Youth. Jove had smoothed her honey blond hair over one side of her head and was grinning as if she should have a knife between her teeth. Forge, on the other hand, had the 3 Stooges clapping him on the back and cheering him on like the good men they were, even if they could disappear at a moment's notice if things went bad. Jove had the entire Noble Team (and curiously, most of the rooting came from Emile) on her side. A right old ruckus was starting up, but unfortunately, they were running out of booze.
Suddenly, a balding man with his lips split in a broad smile came roller skating into the scene, in his arms a basket full of beer.
He was met with a uproar of cheers and hoots as he distributed the alcohol.
When the drinking contest had successfully died down, and the non-drunk operatives had dispersed, another fight had begun.
These events were not unexpected. At least once during a Support Meeting, Jove and Forge got drunk (usually in each other's company), Emile got shot, the Chief dropped some sort of liquid, the Rookie beat Dutch into the dirt at a poker match, and there was a fight. Last time it had been between Jun and Romeo when Jun proved to be the better sniper but Romeo proved to having a quicker left hook. And before that there was a fight between the Master Chief and Carter over who was the better Spartan, which was primarily an event that started when the Chief had clearly shown his proficiency at the baking-and-throwing-a-cake set.
Neither had won that fight because Jorge had intervened and Jorge had won, of course.
Oh, and there had been that time when Cortana had slapped the Chief in the face with an angelfood frosted cake, which had started a food fight of such proportions that Jorge had intervened again. But then Jun threw that legendary raspberry shortcake which had splashed across Jorge's face just as he had turned to face Jun, meaning that Jorge both caught a face-full of raspberry filling and a clear vision of who had thrown it.
Now that had been a curious experience for the small sniper.
As the Rookie and Vergil were conversing with their hands in the farthest corner imaginable, the majority of Noble Team having calmed down from the drinking match, and Johnson having started another with Jerome of Red Team, it was easy to tell that the most exciting part of the meeting had ended. The ODSTs were still playing cards at one of the side of the room somewhat quietly, with Dutch winning every hand, and Mickey looking darn near tempted to call over the Rookie. Veronica Dare looked down on the game from over Buck's shoulder and grinned at his cards.
This was the usual path of the meeting. Usually, they were able to gather the characters together by 10:00 eastern time, if the Player wasn't up that late. They could get the characters stitched in by 10:30 and the meeting usually started fifteen after eleven. But the actual meeting lasted, at most, thirty minutes. The assumed celebrations following lasted until the Player's Xbox was turned on.
Johnson had ceased drinking, and seemingly remarkably sober, was showing the Arbiter Ripa the 'real human music'. One earbud was near Ripa's ear, the other in Johnson's ear completely. The sergeant had a curious look on him, like a mix between euphoria and a bad smell. Ripa was looking surprised.
Cortana had disappeared. Coincidentally, so had the Master Chief. But that was only a coincidence, probably.
Prior we mentioned Emile getting shot. This is his story. Actually, that's happening just now.
One of the doors slammed open and a dark blur flew through it. Evidently Emile had forgotten that the seating arrangement angled downward. Gravity took hold and the Spartan tumbled down the stairs, past the Rook (who had just ventured from his corner) and the Arbiter (who had been discussing molecular physics with Ellen Anders), finally coming to a stop when his face came in contact with the ground. When everyone had finished looking at Emile they chanced to look up at the door. There stood Catherine Halsey, wielding two .45 Colt pistols, both smoking.
"Oh, shit," said Kat, sounding somewhat bored, as everyone's jaws dropped.
Emile glanced over his shoulder, caught sight of the doctor, and struggled to his feet, eager to escape. Catherine barked a curse word that should not be repeated in front of children 10 and younger. Then she lowered both pistols and shot Emile as he reached for the doorknob of the fire exit door. The shots rang out and echoed fiercely through the amphitheater. Everyone jumped at the noise but nonetheless sat tight to watch.
Emile yelped and grabbed the back of his leg, where the .45 caliber bullet and punctured his stitched image. He whipped about to face the doctor as she slowly walked down the steps. Halsey had her graying hair pulled up in a spandex-tight bun, and she was wearing a knee-length black dress, with knee-high leather boots. Her white lab coat was unbuttoned and slightly dirtied on the sleeves. She looked pretty good for a woman her age.
The look on her face, however, was enough to get half the Support Meeting, or the half that were Spartans, scrambling for cover. They knew that look. And they knew what came next.
However at the moment another door, the one opposite Emile's escape, was kicked open. A cloud of dust swirled in, rolling across the floor dramatically. A obscured figure swaggered in. When the dirt had cleared, it became obvious who the newest contestant was.
Captain Jacob Keyes winked at the gawking Halsey and tipped his cowboy hat politely.
Halsey made a noise of outright disgust and shot him.
But obviously, Keyes had been expecting this, and easily dodged the bullet. Quick as lightning he pulled his revolver from his holster and loosed two shots at Halsey. Her hair miraculously sprang free of its ties as she jumped and somersaulted behind the podium. Two more bullets lodged themselves in the thick wood.
Meanwhile, the original meeting members were hiding behind a foldout chair barrier they had formed. Forge, still drunk, was sitting in Jove's lap and Carter was hugging Kat tightly, clearly scared out of his senses. Kat looked ready to explode.
Still, the Chief and Cortana were missing.
Coincidentally, of course. I'm sure they were just making macaroni art.
"Two shots left, Capt'n!" shouted Halsey from behind the podium. Keyes had taken up position on the highest level of chairs in the amphitheater. There were a few clicks as he reloaded. Catherine peeked over the edge of the podium and marked his position. Then she darted from behind the podium, shooting at the captain as she ran. She backed against the door, using her momentum to shove it open, and ran down the hall, reloading her Colts as she went.
The Character Support Meeting members watched as Keyes hopped over the numerous rows and chased after her. The door swung shut and in the distance one could clearly hear gunshots.
"Could someone give me some help?" came a very small, very pained voice, and everyone collectively looked at Emile, who had roughly five bullets in his leg.
No one moved to help him.